Tranquility and handcuffs at the White House
I hadn?t set out to get arrested in front of the White House during the Code Pink demonstration on International Women?s Day, though the idea had apparently crossed my mind unconsciously. Following an impulse, I tossed my contact lens case into my backpack, just in case I spent the night in jail. The day was glorious. Along with the perfect weather there was a very pink, very large crowd (I heard estimates of up to 20,000) filled with celebration, hope, and possibility.
We had been told that we would be able to walk in front of the White House in groups of 25 or less, but police then blocked access to that area from the parade route. A trickle of us came in from other, less-guarded entrances and I found myself in a line of people, almost all women, accompanied by many teenagers and children. Suddenly, all the access points were closed by police, who poured in from every direction?motorcycle cops, police vans with horses, K-9 patrol cars, Secret Service agents, Park Service police, D.C. police, clutches of snipers on the tops of nearby buildings, and, perhaps most ominously, black-clad riot police who conjured an image in my mind of SS troopers. As they started moving people from the area, something held me there, a sense that I was ready to take my next step of deepening commitment.
Those of us who stayed behind began to sing, surrounded by police on three sides with the White House behind us. I can?t imagine a group I would be more honored to be associated with: writers Terry Tempest Williams, Susan Griffin, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston; singer-writer Rachel Bagby; Democracy Now radio show host Amy Goodman, who was on the air reporting throughout; Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink; and other old and new friends.
Around 4 p.m., we were warned that we would be arrested in 5 minutes, but the police then started to disperse. As we sang and sang, there was a palpable feeling of peace and clarity. Our shared intention was to radiate love, to become the change we want to see in the world. It felt like a truly sacred time. And then, together, calmly, slowly, step by step, we backed through the yellow tape that blocked access to the sidewalk in front of the White House, knowing we were about to trigger the arrest process. As we stood and sang, the police approached again, brandished plastic handcuffs, and moved the paddywagons into position, blocking us from onlookers.
I was surprised by my own lack of apprehension and by the crystalline quality of those moments of waiting. A young woman standing next to me turned, her face clear and full of feeling, and said, ?I just want you to know that my name is Holly.? When people since then have told me that they appreciate my commitment, I think of Holly and the other women who had no previous connection to the group or each other and I feel humbled by their courage.
Then came the handcuffs and the mug shots and the stripping of possessions and the ride in the paddywagon.
At the jail we were shuffled through booking and fingerprinting and having more possessions confiscated. We were bureaucratically arranged and rearranged in small concrete block cells. We were treated gently, for the most part. I can?t even imagine what the prison system must be like for most people.
After we were released, there was a moment when I was waiting for the other ?prisoners? by myself, and I got into a conversation with a policewoman. She asked about the Code Pink buttons, so I offered her one. ?Sure,? she said, and then paused for a moment. ?We?re not allowed to choose sides, but a lot of us think this war is a very bad idea.?